Why rethink speech?

Phonetic science has made many important discoveries about the nature of speech and how it works. The thing is, hardly anyone knows about them – which is a shame, because important discoveries shouldn’t be kept secret!

That’s why Rethink Speech aims to bring them into the open, by fast-tracking you to the most fascinating findings of phonetics — in a special, and specially enjoyable, way.

Read the rest now >>>

What does it mean to ‘rethink’ something?

rethink

Rethink Speech aims to help our society to rethink its ‘common knowledge’ about speech.

But what exactly does that mean?

‘Rethinking’ is quite a popular concept these day, and you undoubtedly have a good understanding of it. But let’s run through a few key ideas about rethinking in general that are worth keeping in focus, before looking at what is involved in rethinking speech.

Read the rest now >>>

What does it mean to ‘think about’ speech?

The first step in rethinking speech is to recognise what you currently think about speech. But what does it even mean to ‘think about’ speech?

Like many things to do with speech, it is easy to misunderstand

As usual, the first thing is to be clear on what this expression does not mean.

Read the rest now >>>

Why speech?

Why is speech a topic to spend your energy on?

Here’s two huge reasons.

1. Speech comes into pretty much everything we do

Not just things that require talking to other people (though there’s that).

Most of what we call ‘thinking’ is really speaking silently to ourselves. Well, ok, maybe not always so silently.

Read the rest now >>>

Who needs to rethink speech?

It’s easy to assume the false beliefs that Rethink Speech seeks to redress belong to ‘uneducated others’, but here’s the alarming thing: the more educated you are, the more likely you are to have very confident but very wrong beliefs about the nature of speech and how it works. Even if you have studied phonetics and learned that ‘common knowledge’ is inaccurate, you likely still have false beliefs about speech!

Read the rest now >>>

Warnings!

Don’t bother about feeling ‘hopeless’

Some of our demonstrations set you some tasks you might expect to be easy but are actually extremely difficult.

The reason for that is NOT to get you all frustrated and make you feel you are ‘hopeless at phonetics’!

The reason is to help you reflect on the interesting contradiction between the common expectation that the task will be easy and the reality that it is difficult – and think about what false beliefs that contradiction reveals.

Read the rest now >>>

Frequently asked questions (FAQ)

Do I need a background in phonetics?

You definitely do not need any background in phonetics. However if you do have a background in phonetics, Rethink Speech will still be interesting and useful to you. Rethink Speech presents information that is well known within phonetic science, but is usually reserved for advanced levels of study – and it does so in a novel way that highlights implications not always fully developed even at advanced levels. 

Read the rest now >>>

Sign up for your modules here!


Impatient to get started?

It’s safe to sign up for your first module right away – clicking a green button below just collects your email address and gives you 10 days free access to that particular module.

However, to make best use of your free options, you should know How the site works, understand what’s involved in Joining us and be familiar with other info under INFO – all before signing up for your second module :-).

Read the rest now >>>

Got feedback?

Rethink Speech is new. We’d love to know what you think! Plus we need your feedback to improve the site. Drop us a quick line saying what you liked or didn’t like – and do please mention if you noticed a typo, if something wasn’t working, if some of the navigation got confusing – anything at all, large or small.

Read the rest now >>>

Been denied access to a page?

Please note that accessing some pages requires three stages

  1. You have to be a member in order to log in (more info at 1 below).
  2. You have to be logged in to access members-only material (more info at 2 below).
  3. You have to be signed up to individual modules to see particular pages (more info at 3 below).
Read the rest now >>>

About Rethink Speech

Rethink Speech is developed by Dr Helen Fraser.

Helen is a specialist in cognitive and forensic phonetics: a theorist who has worked on many practical applications in the real world.

Having observed that many problems were caused by our society’s poor understanding of the nature of speech and how it works, she decided to do something about it.

Read the rest now >>>

Contact Rethink Speech

We love to hear from anyone interested in speech or phonetics. Please use the form below for comments, suggestions, questions, ideas – even criticisms (constructive of course!).

In case you are wondering, we are based in Sydney, Australia. Happy to speak by phone or in person. Just make an arrangement via the contact form.

Read the rest now >>>

Why rethink phonetics?

Phonetics is the science of speech

You might not find yourself thinking about phonetics terribly much at all – so you might be surprised to hear that at Rethink Speech, we want you to re-think phonetics!

The reason is that how people think about speech affects how they think about phonetics, and how people think about phonetics affects how they think about speech.

Read the rest now >>>

Phonetics? That’s like speech therapy, right?

When (or if) people think about phonetics, one common idea is that phonetics involves describing how the sounds of speech (or ‘phonemes’) are produced (or ‘articulated’) in the mouth. If you hold this idea, you might wonder why anyone would want to do that – and an obvious answer is to help people who have trouble in producing particular sounds, for example, people with a lisp, or people who say ‘rabbit’ as ‘wabbit’.

Read the rest now >>>

How to make a phonetician really sad and frustrated

grumpy-teacherMost phoneticians love to talk about their science. But there’s one reaction that makes us want to lie about our profession. The conversation we dread goes something like this:

  • Hi what do you do?
  • I do research in phonetics, the science of speech.
  • Oh dear, I’d better mind what I say – ha ha – hey George, watch what you say, the pronunciation police are here (etc etc etc).
Read the rest now >>>

Isn’t phonetics a special system that lets you write the sounds of any language?

ipachartc‘Phonetic spelling’, in everyday language, means a way of representing words that gives a clear idea of their pronunciation – as opposed to standard spelling, which often obscures the pronunciation. For example, where standard spelling gives ‘rough’, phonetic spelling might give ‘ruff’.

From this, people often get the idea that phonetics is a more scientific way of doing phonetic spelling.

Read the rest now >>>

OK, so what IS phonetics?

OK, so if phonetics isn’t any of these things, what is it? Phoneticians often give it a broad but simple definition (yes, experts in phonetics often call themselves phoneticians; and no, that doesn’t mean they are phony Titians, with dyed red hair!)

Simply put, phonetics is the science of speech, in all its aspects.

Read the rest now >>>

Did you know you have a theory of speech? We call it the c-a-t theory

You might think that learning phonetics involves learning some theory about speech. If you are a scholar, you might even think it involves learning several different theories of speech, comparing and contrasting the advantages and disadvantages of each. Indeed those ideas are true – there are a great many theories about speech that need to be learned and evaluated.

Read the rest now >>>

I’ve also heard of phonology: Is that just another word for phonetics, or something different?

‘Phonetics’ is a bit like ‘dog’

At one level, ‘dog’ is a general word for any member of a particular species of animal. At this level, the word ‘dog’ contrasts with words for members of other species such as ‘cat’ or ‘horse’. Let’s call that the broad level.

At another level, ‘dog’ is a particular kind of animal within this species, specifically, an adult male canine.

Read the rest now >>>

The science of speech vs. speech science

We define phonetics as the science of speech. There’s another term that sounds very similar but, though sometimes used interchangeably, often refers to a quite different kind of study. That is speech science. To understand the difference in approach, let’s think a little about what speech is.

Speech as a kind of sound made by a human vocal tract

Speech undoubtedly is a kind of sound.

Read the rest now >>>

What is cognitive phonetics?

Cognitive Phonetics is the scientific study of how people think about speech.

That may seem a bit paradoxical. If phonetics is a science, shouldn’t it focus on what speech is really like, not on what people think about it?

Well certainly phonetics needs to observe what speech is really like – but doing so turns out to raise a lot of questions about how people think about speech – as we discuss in our Intro.

Read the rest now >>>

Welcome to Rethink Speech 101: Unlearning

Rethink Speech 101: Unlearning is our flagship offering, stepping you through a lot of the foundational unlearning that is built on throughout this site. That makes it a great place to start your Rethink Speech exploration. However, it is also fine to start with one or more of the other modules then come back and fill in the foundations later on.

Read the rest now >>>

Observing speech: What just ain’t so

It’s hard to really observe speech in everyday life. We can’t see it, touch it, or smell it. Even hearing lasts only an instant.

Phonetic science allows us to capture speech, and study it in ways most people never experience.

Now here’s the thing

When we observe speech scientifically, we find it is nothing like we think it is like.

Read the rest now >>>

 

Sorry but you've been denied access to this page. Please log in below OR sign up here (free) OR get more info on why you have been denied access here OR click BACK to continue previewing. Thanks!

Unknown language

Have you ever listened to people talking a language you don’t know a word of? It sounds like gobbledegook delivered at a rapid pace!

But if we pay attention, there is a lot we can learn from this experience

Here’s an example we can work with. Click the play arrow below to hear 15 seconds of speech in a language you are rather unlikely to know. Read the rest now >>>

 

Sorry but you've been denied access to this page. Please log in below OR sign up here (free) OR get more info on why you have been denied access here OR click BACK to continue previewing. Thanks!

Scroll slowly through a speech wave

Most of the time, we can only listen to speech. After all, it’s invisible, so there’s not much to see!

But phonetic science gives us some ways to look at speech (or at least to look at a representation of speech). That gives a whole new perspective.

This demo let’s you watch as we zoom in on the speech wave of an English sentence, and scroll slowly through it. Read the rest now >>>

 

Sorry but you've been denied access to this page. Please log in below OR sign up here (free) OR get more info on why you have been denied access here OR click BACK to continue previewing. Thanks!

Backwards speech makes us laugh: Should it make us think too?

You have probably had the experience of listening to speech turned backwards. Most people can’t resist laughing when they hear it: it sounds like a strange foreign language, possibly Martian. But like most speech fun, turning speech backwards does more than just give us a chuckle. It tells us something pretty fundamental about the nature of speech. Here’s an example. Read the rest now >>>

 

Sorry but you've been denied access to this page. Please log in below OR sign up here (free) OR get more info on why you have been denied access here OR click BACK to continue previewing. Thanks!

Isn’t this all just sloppy, careless speech? Let’s ask the Queen

People sometimes think demonstrations like these work only for sloppy, unclear speech, and that they show that speakers should be more careful with their enunciation.

We can agree it is good to speak clearly – but speaking clearly does not involve enunciating each word and sound (phoneme) separately.

Let’s use a sample from the Queen of England to demonstrate this surprising fact. Read the rest now >>>

 

Sorry but you've been denied access to this page. Please log in below OR sign up here (free) OR get more info on why you have been denied access here OR click BACK to continue previewing. Thanks!

Does c+a+t really make ‘cat’?

Here’s a different perspective on the idea that it is only sloppy, unclear speech that is continuous. This time instead of looking for phonemes (individual speech sounds) in already-created speech, let’s try making a word by putting the phonemes together ourselves. Surely if we start with nice clear phonemes, we’ll end up with a nice clear word, right? Read the rest now >>>

 

Sorry but you've been denied access to this page. Please log in below OR sign up here (free) OR get more info on why you have been denied access here OR click BACK to continue previewing. Thanks!

Practical theory for spoken communication

Rethink Speech offers a new way of thinking about speech. We want to do more than suggest an entertaining way of thinking about speech though. This view of speech gives a practical theory with lots of useful applications in the real world. One of those applications is improving the effectiveness of spoken communication between native and non-native speakers of English, especially helping second language learners with pronunciation.

Read the rest now >>>

Helping with a foreign accent: Some cautions

When we hear someone struggling with English pronunciation, it’s easy for native speakers to feel they know exactly what the problem is. But are we always right in our diagnosis? Here’s some audio you can work through to demonstrate a common example.

First, you might like to try listening to a few non-native speakers attempting a difficult English word (each file less than 1 sec).

Read the rest now >>>

Look mum, no phonemes

The demonstrations in this module – along with many other phonetic observations – show clearly that speech has no breaks or boundaries between words or phonemes.

In itself, speech is a continuous stream of sound.

That goes for all speech, clear or sloppy, in any language, in any dialect - and the simple explanation you might be thinking of doesn't work as well as you expect! Read the rest now >>>

 

Sorry but you've been denied access to this page. Please log in below OR sign up here (free) OR get more info on why you have been denied access here OR click BACK to continue previewing. Thanks!

No other units either – just ask some babies!

dancing-babyIf you have studied phonetics before (especially in the context of language teaching), you might be asking:

Shouldn’t we be talking about suprasegmentals, not phonemes?

There is something very true about the insight that suprasegmentals (the rhythm and melody of speech) are more important than phonemes. But it is also rather easy to understand it wrongly - as we are about to learn from some cute dancing babies. Read the rest now >>>

 

Sorry but you've been denied access to this page. Please log in below OR sign up here (free) OR get more info on why you have been denied access here OR click BACK to continue previewing. Thanks!

What you can do when you know

choirThose who were in (or aware of) Australia in 2008 will have a good memory of then prime minister Kevin Rudd’s famous apology to the indigenous people.

Rob Davidson took a one-second sample of Rudd’s words, ‘We apologise’ and made a remarkable musical interpretation. The short video (2:17) gives a good impression. Read the rest now >>>

 

Sorry but you've been denied access to this page. Please log in below OR sign up here (free) OR get more info on why you have been denied access here OR click BACK to continue previewing. Thanks!

What happens to the phonemes? Good question but is there a better one?

OK, let’s say we accept that speech in itself is a continuous stream of sound, rather than a sequence of words, phonemes, syllables or other units. How should we respond? There are two general approaches – a good one and a better one. Here’s the good one.

How did the phonemes get all messed up and distorted like that?

Read the rest now >>>

 

Sorry but you've been denied access to this page. Please log in below OR sign up here (free) OR get more info on why you have been denied access here OR click BACK to continue previewing. Thanks!

Which comes first: the phoneme or the word?

This module puts a new slant on an old conundrum, while pursuing our quest to unlearn some apparently obvious facts about speech that most of us learned in childhood and have seldom had reason to question.

One thing many of us know for sure is that if we hear a word – like ‘cat’ – then we must have heard its phonemes: ‘c-a-t’. Read the rest now >>>

 

Sorry but you've been denied access to this page. Please log in below OR sign up here (free) OR get more info on why you have been denied access here OR click BACK to continue previewing. Thanks!

How do you know it’s the same word? Not because it sounds the same!

When we listen to speech, it seems like a sequence of words. But they are not all different words. Quite often we hear the same word repeated, sometimes several times in one utterance. For example if you read this paragraph out loud, you’d repeat the word ‘word’ several times.

Now here’s an interesting thing. Read the rest now >>>

 

Sorry but you've been denied access to this page. Please log in below OR sign up here (free) OR get more info on why you have been denied access here OR click BACK to continue previewing. Thanks!

Counting sounds, and the topsy-turvy world of speech perception

It seems ‘as easy as ABC’ – counting the number of sounds in a simple word. But what is it we are actually counting?

Today's demonstration lets you into the secret. It's not as obvious as you think. Counting sounds may be easy (to those who have learned to do it) but it is certainly not simple. Read the rest now >>>

 

Sorry but you've been denied access to this page. Please log in below OR sign up here (free) OR get more info on why you have been denied access here OR click BACK to continue previewing. Thanks!

Gating

Gating is a way of listening to speech - not, as we usually do, from the beginning of an utterance to the end, but from the middle out – as if you were gradually opening a gate to reveal more and more of the speech. It’s a bit hard to explain gating but very easy to demonstrate – and most people find it pretty amazing. Read the rest now >>>

 

Sorry but you've been denied access to this page. Please log in below OR sign up here (free) OR get more info on why you have been denied access here OR click BACK to continue previewing. Thanks!

Surprising surprise: Letters aren’t all the same either!

We’ve seen some demonstrations in this module that most people find quite surprising. Words that are clearly ‘the same word’ actually sound quite different. 'The same phoneme’ has a different sound every time it is pronounced.

Somehow we expect speech to be more like writing, where repetitions of the same word, and the same letter, look the same.

Read the rest now >>>

 

Sorry but you've been denied access to this page. Please log in below OR sign up here (free) OR get more info on why you have been denied access here OR click BACK to continue previewing. Thanks!

Word superiority

It seems obvious that we need to hear phonemes in order to hear words. However, this module has given quite a lot of surprising demonstrations to show that's not how it really is. Words rule! We can’t hear phonemes until we can hear words.

But should that really be so surprising?

Read the rest now >>>

 

Sorry but you've been denied access to this page. Please log in below OR sign up here (free) OR get more info on why you have been denied access here OR click BACK to continue previewing. Thanks!

What should be true but isn’t

It seems easy to accept that we hear words by hearing phonemes. After all,  the idea that the phoneme, or individual speech sound, is the basic unit of speech is part of common knowledge. So much so that it seems perverse to even question it.

But let’s look at it another way: if phonemes really were the basic unit of speech, a lot of things should be true that we just don't observe in real life.

Read the rest now >>>

 

Sorry but you've been denied access to this page. Please log in below OR sign up here (free) OR get more info on why you have been denied access here OR click BACK to continue previewing. Thanks!

What is surprise?

Rethink Speech makes use of funny, surprising demonstrations to help you unlearn commonly held false beliefs about the nature of speech and how it works.

To get the most out of these demonstrations, it is worth addressing a question you may not have thought about explicitly yet: What is surprise?

Surprise comes when expectations are violated

Now sometimes, things happen that we simply could never have expected.

Read the rest now >>>